img_0005Jason Goodwin is a British historian and author of the popular historical mystery novels featuring the eunuch detective Yashim and set in Istanbul during the early nineteenth century. The world of the Ottoman Empire figures importantly in the series, and Cambridge-educated Goodwin brings that world vividly to life in his novels, having already dealt with it in has narrative history, Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. The Yashim series debut, The Janissary Tree, earned Goodwin an Edgar Award for the Best Novel in 2007.

Second in the series, The Snake Stone, won critical praise from many quarters. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio noted: “When you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth.” The Washington Post also commended that series addition, observing: “The real pleasure of The Snake Stone lies in its powerful evocation of the cultural melting pot that was nineteenth-century Istanbul. . . . Goodwin’s sharp eye combines with a poetic style to bring the city vividly to life.” Book three in the series, The Bellini Card, prompted laudatory words from Publishers Weekly: “Goodwin skillfully blends deduction, action sequences and period color.” The fourth series installment, An Evil Eye,was published in the spring of 2011, and Publishers Weekly dubbed it “masterful.”

Fans had to wait three more years for the fifth and final volume of the series, The Baklava Club, which a Kirkus Reviews critic called “elegantly written,” and of which Publishers Weekly noted: “Goodwin well illustrates the complex crossroads of cultures, politics, and religions that mapped 19th-century Istanbul.” baklavaclub

Jason, it is a real pleasure to finally have you on Scene of the Crime. I have been a fan of your work since the series opener. Maybe we could open this interview with some discussion of your connection to Istanbul/Constantinople.

Twenty years ago, when the countries of communist eastern Europe overthrew their leaders, I decided to explore them – on foot. We walked, from Gdansk in Poland, all the way south to Istanbul.

We were months on the road, staying with farmers and priests each night, and gradually we felt the pull of The City. Istanbul was the great gateway between the continents, the capital of the Greek Orthodox world, the centre of trade and faith and thought in the region. We felt it as soon as we reached Hungary – which was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century. There was more colour, and better coffee.

I became fascinated by the city, and eventually I wrote a book about Ottoman history, Lords of the Horizons. 

What things about historic Istanbul make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

Istanbul – Constantinople – has often been called ‘the capital of the world’. Its physical setting is extraordinary, raised on hills above the Bosphorus, the deep channel that divides Asia from Europe, and links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Huge ships slide through the city, whose hills are crowned with mosques and minarets. For almost 2000 years, the city has been a meeting-place, a crossing point, and a melting pot.

It’s the perfect place to find a body…

Did you consciously set out to use your location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story or stories?

Considering how old, how tangled, how ethnically and religiously diverse Istanbul is – and the scale of its historical monuments and districts – the city was bound to become a ‘character’ in the books. There are so many different ways to approach Istanbul: every street wants to tell a story.

9781250002433How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you? Are you conscious of referring to your specific city or locale as you write?

Absolutely. In The Bellini Card I took my characters to Venice, because Venice is Istanbul’s alter ego, a sort of watery reflection of Constantinople. I really enjoyed contrasting the two cities, whose histories are different, but entwined. 

How does Yashim interact with his surroundings? Is he a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect Yashim?

Yashim, my investigator, works for the sultan and the high officials of the Ottoman Empire. But when I chose the 1830s as my period, I had a problem: a male investigator would be unable to talk to half the people in Istanbul – all the women, secluded in their harems, would be off-limits.

So I made the cruelest cut, and turned Yashim into a eunuch. Istanbul had eunuchs at that time, so he blended perfectly with the atmosphere of the city. He sort of emerged from it, really.

Has there been any local reaction to your works?

The series has been translated into more than 40 languages, including languages once spoken in the Ottoman Empire. So not only Turkish but Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Hungarian etc. Everyone is curious to see how I have dealt with them – and I think they’ve been satisfied. The reaction from Turkish readers has been one of delighted astonishment: I’m told the recreation of the past is very convincing.snakestone-f78a53768bff573af1f8cf4bb303cf4b66589eb2-s2-c85

Have you ever made any goofs in depicting your location or time period? Please share–the more humorous the better (we all have).

In The Bellini Card I sent a Venetian Commissario into a cafe for a ‘coretto’, which is something even stronger than an espresso. So I thought.

A charming Venetian gentleman wrote to me, pointing it out (among other blunders, I’m afraid). A ‘cafe coretto’ is a coffee. A coretto on its own is a small male choir. So it was an odd choice for the Commissario.

Of the Yashim novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage or give an example of how the location figures in your novels?

This is a passage from The Janissary Tree:

“Yashim arrived early at the little restaurant beneath Galata Point and chose a quiet alcove which overlooked the channel of the Bosphorus. From where he sat he could watch the waterway he loved so much, the narrow sheet of gunmetal which had made Istanbul what it was: the junction of Europe and Asia, the pathway from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, the great entrepot of world trade from ancient times to the present day.

“The water was as ever thick with shipping. A mountain of white sails rose above the deck of an Ottoman frigate, tacking up the straits. A shoal of fishing smacks, broad beamed and single masted, held out under an easterly wind for the Sea of Marmora. A customs boat swept past on its long red oars like a scurrying water-beetle. There were ferries, and skiffs, and overladen barges; lateen-rigged cutters from the Black Sea coast, house-boats moored by the crowded entrance to the Golden Horn. Across the jostling waterway, Yashim could just make out Scutari on the opposite shore, the beginning of Asia.

9780312426132“The Greeks had called Scutari Chalcydon, the city of the blind. In founding the city, the colonists had ignored the perfect natural setting across the water, where centuries later  Constantine was to turn the small town of Byzantium into a great imperial city which bore his name. For a thousand years it was the capital of the Roman Empire in the east,  until that empire had shrunk to a sliver of land around the city. Ever since the Conquest in 1453, the city had been known as Istanbul, the capital of the Turkish Ottoman empire. It was still the biggest city in the world.

“Fifteen hundred years of grandeur. Fifteen hundred years of power. Fifteen centuries of corruption, coups and compromises. A city of mosques, churches, synagogues; of markets and emporia; of tradesmen, soldiers, beggars. The city to beat all cities, overcrowded, greedy.

Perhaps, Yashim sometimes reflected, the Chalcydonians hadn’t been so blind, after all.”

Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?

My all time favourite has to be Raymond Chandler. Chandler created Los Angeles for me – the sickly hue of decay, money in the heat, mobsters and hustlers and all the ugliness of modern American sprawl.

Of course when I first visited LA, it wasn’t like that at all – it 9780312429355was rather delightful. But that is beside the point!

Before Chandler, there was Dickens, who also created a city – Victorian, industrial London.

I used to write travel books, and there are several travel writers I admire who can conjure up cities and locations with consummate precision – Jan Morris is one.

And Graham Greene. I love Graham Greene: locations, and ambiguities.

Jason, thanks much for taking the time to talk with us at Scene of the Crime.

To learn more about Jason Goodwin visit the author on his home page.

BreedingThe U.S. release of A Matter of Breeding, the fifth book in my Viennese Mysteries series, is now available. To celebrate its publication, the San Francisco Book Review features me in an extensive interview on the series and on writing historical fiction, as does the Big Thrill.

The novel also continues to garner strong reviews.

Publishers Weekly felt that this “solid fifth whodunit featuring lawyer Karl Werthen and real-life criminologist pioneer Hanns Gross … is one of the series’ best at combining plot and historical background.”

Kirkus Reviews also had praise for the novel, noting: “Turn-of-the-century Austria has its own homegrown Jack the Ripper, a killer with a cruelly creative streak and a disturbingly playful nature…. Jones adds a delicious historic perspective…, all presented with precision and panache.”

Here’s a brief summary of the book:

The fifth installment of the acclaimed Viennese Mystery series, A Matter of Breeding, finds lawyer and private inquiries agent Karl Werthen and his colleague, the criminologist Dr. Hanns Gross, investigating a series of grizzly murder/mutilations of young women in the Austrian province of Styria. The newspapers are touting Jewish blood ritual murders and vampirism, and Werthen and Gross–assisted by the Irish writer Bram Stoker who is in Austria to give a speech–battle against time to discover the real motive for such brutal and seemingly random killings. Meanwhile, Werthen’s wife, Berthe, has her own case to deal with. Commissioned by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, she is investigating a potential breeding scandal at the famous Lipizzaner stud. If the stud line has indeed been corrupted, this can prove to be more than a mere embarrassment for the Habsburgs, for the Lipizzaner blood line has been introduced to most of the royal stables of Europe. As these dual investigations proceed, it eventually becomes apparent that there is a connection between the two. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of breeding.

You can actually buy it now at Amazon or  at your favorite bookshop.

DeniseMinaTHUMBThey call it Tartan Noir, the Scots form of noir crime writing. And Glasgow crime writer Denise Mina is one of its major practitioners. Mina is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels: the three installments of the “Garnethill” trilogy featuring Maureen O’Donnell as an unwilling sleuth; three novels featuring Paddy Meehan, a journalist in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow; the stand-alone crime novel, Sanctum; the 2010 graphic novel, A Sickness in the Family; and contributions to the John Constantine, Hellblazer series.

Increasingly, however, Mina has become identified with her series of novels featuring Glasgow DI Alex Morrow: Still Midnight, The End of the Wasp Season, Gods and Beasts, and The Red Road. Writing in the New York Times Book Review of the last-named novel, released in the U.S. in 2014, Marilyn Stasio noted: “If anyone can make you root for the murderer, it’s Denise Mina, whose defiantly unsentimental novels are less concerned with personal guilt than with the social evils that create criminals and the predators who nurture them. . . [The Red Road is] as fierce a story as any Mina has written.” Publishers Weekly also had high praise for this installment, calling it “perhaps her finest yet, a brilliantly crafted tale of corruption, ruined lives, and the far-reaching ripple effects of crime.” n413367

Mina hit the ground running, winning the John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel in 1998 for Garnethill, the first of a trilogy of the same name. She was dubbed the “Crown Princess of Crime” by author Val McDermid, who went on to note, “”If you don’t love Denise Mina, you don’t love crime fiction.”  Mina has also earned praise from fellow Scots writer Ian Rankin, who called her “one of the most exciting writers to have emerged in Britain for years.” She has since been a finalist for the Edgar and the recipient of the 2012 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award (for The End of the Wasp Season), beating out such formidable competition as John Connolly. Continue Reading »

a matter 3A Matter of Breeding, book five in the Viennese Mysteries, has just been published in England (due out in the U.S. in July) and has already been earning critical praise. British bookseller and blogger Jo Graham commented: “This is a rich and luscious historical read, within a well crafted plot, there are plenty of historical facts and famous faces to be found, fans of Conan Doyle will love this.” U.S. critic David Marshall, writing on the Thinking about Books Web site, remarked: “Altogether, A Matter of Breeding is a thoughtful … entertaining mystery.”

Read this fellow to get the real feel for the book and the series.

A quick précis :

1901. Karl Werthen and his colleague, renowned criminologist Dr Hanns Gross, are investigating a bizarre series of murders in the small Austrian town of Graz, aided, or impeded, by Irish author Bram Stoker, who as Marshall noted, is “some author fellow who’s visiting to promote his books. It seems vampires are at large and an expert’s help is called for. ” Meanwhile, back in Vienna, Karl’s wife Berthe is looking into what seems to be a fraudulent breeding scheme involving the prized Lipizzaner horses. Could the two investigations be connected?

GaryCorby[1]Australian novelist Gary Corby is the author of the Athenian Mystery series, which stars, as Corby explains on his home page, “Nicolaos, his girlfriend Diotima, and his irritating twelve year old brother Socrates.” The most recent series installment, The Marathon Conspiracy, is out this coming May. Publishers Weekly has this to say about the series: “Corby displays a real gift for pacing and plotting.” Similarly, Library Journal commented: “Mix one part ancient history, one part clever and contemporary banter, and one part action, and you have a top-notch crime caper.”

Gary, it is a real pleasure to welcome you Up Over (sorry about that) to Scene of the Crime. Can we start things off with the obvious? What made you choose ancient Greece for murder mysteries? Continue Reading »

Image2It is my pleasure today to present an extended interview with J. Robert Janes, author of the acclaimed St-Cyr and Kohler series set in occupied France during World War II. The Wall Street Journal called the series “engrossing,” and Publishers Weekly felt that it “convincingly documents the wartime background of Nazi-occupied.” Jean-Louis St-Cyr is a widower, a inspector of the French Sûreté, and is partnered in crime detection with Bavarian Detektiv Inspektor Hermann Kohler. The pair set out together first in the 1992 Mayhem, and have been at it ever since, though there was a decade-long hiatus from 2002 to 2012. Janes had not quit writing during that time; far from it. He penned three further novels in the series as well as several young adult works, but it was not until 2012 that he struck a new publishing deal with Otto Penzler of Mysterious Press and his Open Road Media partners: they published Janes’ entire backlist in e-book, and contracted for future titles in the series as paperback and e-book originals.

Thus, St-Cyr and Kohler took the stage once again in the 2012 title,w506156 Bellringer, and the critics were happy to have them back again. “St-Cyr and Kohler [have] returned in an enthralling, character-propelled new police procedural,” declared Kirkus Reviews, while Publishers Weekly noted: “The combined ingenuity of St. Cyr and Kohler, the harsh realities of the occupation, and an array of intriguing characters will keep readers turning the pages.” Janes reprises the duo in the 2013 Tapestry and in the fifteenth in the series, Carnival, due out next month.

So, without further ado, welcome to Scene of the Crime, Bob. Please tell us about your long-running series. Could you give us a sense of your protagonists and of Paris and all of France in the early 1940s?

Jean-Louis St-Cyr, of the Sûreté Nationale, and his partner, Hermann Kohler, of the Gestapo’s Kripo, its Kriminalpolizei, are now all but through their sixteenth investigation. What this means, in very simple terms, is that for a great deal of the past twenty-four years I have been living with and through those two. Some of the books took longer than others–one learns one’s history, et cetera, as one goes along. Some stories also demand more than others. But the question is, of course, not just why is it that I am continually drawn to German-Occupied France during the Second World War, but why, after perhaps a year and a half or two on one book, do I suddenly come to a point where I’m excited about the next one? I use one-word titles throughout the series and often these come to me while I’m still writing another, and it is then, I’m certain, that the subconscious has patiently been working on this “next one”.

n402313France is, of course, a remarkably beautiful and intelligent country. There are huge differences from region to region, each exhibiting its own patois, character and substance. It’s food, too, and not just the wine. All of these regions have their history, character and substance, and of course, I write historical novels that just happen to be mysteries (or vice versa), yet still, what is it that drives me to do this–me who is still, after all, and was, a mining engineer, a geologist, university lecturer, research scientist, high school teacher–all that sort of baggage that folks carry as they get on in life?

First let me state that what happened during the Occupation of France could have happened anywhere and definitely did, there being degrees of the extreme. Additionally, the books are not anti-French in the slightest. French readers and professors have all stressed this. Louis Malle, the great French film director, did tell me he appreciated and understood what I was up to and wished me well, but warned me that in France, and with the French, I would have a very hard time. Generally the French don’t want to deal with the Occupation, except in very couched terms, and Malle was only too aware of this. But I was to get on with it anyways.

So, first a difficult time and country to choose if one wanted the n432337locals to appreciate and help with what I was up to; secondly, a good Gestapo, as a partner–ah mon Dieu, how could I have chosen to do such a thing too? Well, I didn’t. I more or less fell into it when at the end of The Hunting Ground, a thriller about Lily de St-Germain, née Hollis–it has a very bad Sûreté–I set my pencil down and asked myself, Hey, what about a good Sûreté in all of this? Well, he would have to have a German overseer like everything else, but I’d make Hermann only a Detektiv Inspektor; Jean-Louis would be a Chief Inspector.

You’ve been at this series a long time. Do you ever have any difficulties coming up with new plot lines?

I wrote Mayhem, the first, in seven months back in 1990–that’s the one Louis Malle very kindly read when published in1992. Carousel took about ten months, and by then Constable and Company had “bought” the series. And then, you ask? Well, once you start a series you had better keep on doing it and I did, sometimes two in one year, and I still am. And yes, they don’t get easier only harder and harder, and of course I know German-Occupied France probably as well as anyone can, though–and this is what drives me, too–I am still finding things that excite me.


Continue Reading »

ccdutch2 copyColin Cotterill is the author of numerous volumes in the popular Dr. Siri Paiboun series, featuring the septuagenarian Laotian coroner. Dr. Siri had thought to spend a peaceful retirement, but he is conscripted by the Communist government after the 1975 takeover of Laos. He hopes to make this job a sinecure; in the event he continually finds himself knee deep in murders and cover ups, far from the usual retirement activities.

Siri was introduced in the 2004 title, The Coroner’s Lunch, a “convincing and highly interesting portrayal of an exotic locale… [that] marks the author as someone to watch,” according to Publishers Weekly. Since then, Cotterill has published eight more Dr. Siri mysteries, with The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die appearing in 2013. Continue Reading »


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